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The Morality of Smoking

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2) Knowledge is not automatic, nor intrinsic.  When Ayn Rand started smoking (I am guessing in the 1920's), it was not known to her that smoking was harmful. 

Howdy All,

I would disagree with this statement. Check out this link.

http://tobacco.harpweek.com/

They knew back then of the possible dangers from smoking.

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If I owned a restaurant I would not permit people to smoke in it. The majority of modern day smokers seem to be lower class, week-willed, unkempt bludgers who would not be able to afford the high qual

Context! Context!

Certainly smoking harms the body, but the body has the ability to recover.  That fact, combined with the benefits of smoking -- the pleasure, relaxation, the positive effects of sharpening awareness -- may lead a person to rationally conclude that smoking is worth it.

B: "Certainly smoking harms the body, but the body has the ability to recover."

The body has the ability to recover from the effects of smoking if one quits smoking. While one is smoking the body does not have a chance to recover fully and will be less healthy than it would be without smoking, all else being equal.

B: "the pleasure"

1. The pleasure of smoking, if it is that, tends to reduce other pleasures, such as the pleasure of a good sense of taste and the pleasure of a good set of lungs and the pleasure of better health..

2. Is smoking pleasure? Or is it relief from nicotine deficiency? (the re-narcotizing of nerves that are distressed by prior smoking)

B: "relaxation"

1. Why does a smoker need to relax? What is this relaxation? Maybe it is relief from nicotine deficiency.

2. There are harmless ways to relax.

B: "positive effects of sharpening awareness"

Every high is followed by a low. The low is necessary to recover from the high.

If recovery is not complete, the highs get less high (with the same dose) and the lows get lower. (This is how people get what is called "addicted". They don't like being low and they percieve the low as a "need" for the nicotine or whatever.)

B: "may lead a person to rationally conclude that smoking is worth it."

There is such a thing as rationalization, the use of reason as a tool of deception instead of a tool of knowledge.

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Let'say for the same reasons you mentioned earlier, "pleasure, relaxation, the positive effects of sharpening awareness"

But heroin DOES NOT sharpen awareness, and the risks of immediate death due to an overdose are significant. The cost/benefit analysis generally does not work out very well for most people.

Still, opiates like heroin are powerful pain killers and, as such, can be of value to SOME people. If it weren't illegal, it might be a good idea for someone suffering from severe, chronic, intractable pain due to a terminal illness like cancer to use heroin or morphine, under medical supervision, to make life more bearable.

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Betsy: context, indeed. Exercising actually strengthens the body, including the joints. Someone who does the right amount, and does it properly, will suffer less from arthritis in old age.

Driving in a car, working in one's career, hiking ... these are all done in the pursuit of *rational* values. They are far from a guaranteed cause of disease, injury, or death. But smoking is a rational value because ... ?

pvt: Knowledge is not intrinsic nor automatic. Your article does not prove that Rand knew smoking was harmful in the 1920's. The only thing I know (which admittedly may be less than others) about Rand's smoking is that she quit cold turkey when her doctor told her it was killing her.

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Ok, what if I just do it for pleasure and relaxation? And what risks are there if in my hypothetical example, the person consumes a small, teeny weeny portion of heroin once a week?

I know of the usefulness of opiates, and other drugs, for the purposes of staving off pain - practically anything and everything that can lessen pain is ok to be used in that situation.

So there's no disagreement about the use of drugs for negative purposes (to ward off pain, etc). My question is, is it ok to use heroin for positive purposes, just as you said it's ok to use nicotine for positive purposes? Assume the conditions are the same, where you ingest a very small amount, with negligible health risks, for the purposes of pleasure and relaxation.

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So there's no disagreement about the use of drugs for negative purposes (to ward off pain, etc). My question is, is it ok to use heroin for positive purposes, just as you said it's ok to use nicotine for positive purposes? Assume the conditions are the same, where you ingest a very small amount, with negligible health risks, for the purposes of pleasure and relaxation.

The relevant question is: should one seek to obtain pleasure from chemicals? I don't have a final view on that question, but in my experience, the answer would be - in general - no.

Consider the difference between pleasure achieved by the ingestion of chemicals to the pleasure achieved through the achievement of other values. The two are not, in my view, commensurable.

All chemical pleasures necessarily have "come downs" which result from detox (I don't mean alcoholics getting clean...every time you go from chemical pleasure to no chemical pleasure, you are detoxing). As an aside, one of the causes of drug addiction is that the user's subconscious doesn't associate the pain of detox with the drug, but with the lack of the drug, a fact only re-enforced when the user "re-ups" to deal with the detox pain. In any case, the point is all chemical pleasures (including the so-called pleasure of smoking) are undercut by the pain of the come-down (which may be slight, or great, depending on the context). To say, "The drug was pleasurable," is like watching an awful movie with one good scene and calling it a good movie.

To put it another way, even when the detox pain is slight, the nature of the pain is vicious: it is the pain of regaining normalcy. When you take a drug, and then come down, this is the lesson you teach your subconscious: "Reality doesn't feel good, only the drug feels good. See how awful you feel? That's because you don't have the drug."

Now, it might be said, isn't that true of all pleasures? The answer is: not at all. Pleasures that follow the achievement of legitimate values do not have a come down and therefore do not result in experiencing normalcy as pain. One does not "come down" after sex with someone one loves. On the contrary, one's enjoyment of "normal" existence is heightened. But guess what's interesting? One does "come down" after sex with someone one does not like. Once again, it comes back to the relationship between pleasure and values.

Another point: Chemical pleasures dull other pleasures. One of the most awful drugs around today is ecstasy. What makes it so awful is that it makes one's skin extremely sensitive - every sensation becomes overwhelmingly pleasurable. The problem is, frequent users (and even infrequent users) often become dull to physical pleasures other than those produced by ecstasy. Even sex. Sure, they enjoy it, but it's not as intense as the drug.

I'll end with this point. The pleasure worth pursuing is the pleasure you can be proud of experiencing: pleasures associated with and tied to values. Pleasure removed from reality, chemical pleasures, pleasures that cause one to value the chemical more than reality, are threats. They are the enemy of the good life.

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So there's no disagreement about the use of drugs for negative purposes (to ward off pain, etc). My question is, is it ok to use heroin for positive purposes ...

What "positive purposes?" To dull your senses? To disrupt your thinking capacity? To put you into a stupor? I would not refer to such a physical and mental state as being for your "pleasure and relaxation."

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But Dr. Speicher, not all drugs "dull your senses". As Don's excellent post indicates, some drugs sharpen your senses. Some even sharpen your thinking capacity (at least temporarily) - don't forget that Sherlock Holmes was a frequent user of cocaine, and for a reason. Also, ironically (or is it?), he was a big smoker, the image of him with his pipe in the mouth being known around the world.

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... not all drugs "dull your senses"....

You asked me specifically about heroin, and I gave you my answer. I know enough about that drug to answer with a sense of certainty. As I said in another thread on the use of drugs:

"leaving aside a number of scientific and psychological issues, I for one would have no objection to the safe use of a substance which enhanced my awareness, sharpened my thinking ability, and affected my judgment in a positive way. What I have objected to in this thread, and continue to object to, is the use of a substance which reduces my awareness, lessens my reasoning ability, and adversely affects my judgment."

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. . . some drugs sharpen your senses. Some even sharpen your thinking capacity (at least temporarily) - don't forget that Sherlock Holmes was a frequent user of cocaine, and for a reason.

Actually, Sherlock Holmes only used cocaine when he had no crimes to solve. In The Sign of Four, he famously responded to Watson's reproach for using the drug:

"'My mind,' he said, 'rebels at stagnation. Give me problems, give me work, give me the most abstruse cryptogram or the most intricate analysis, and I am in my own proper atmosphere. I can dispense then with artificial stimulants. But I abhor the dull routine of existence. I crave for mental exaltation.'"

And a little later:

"[Watson said:] 'Would you think me impertinent if I were to put your theories to a more severe test?'

"'On the contrary,' [Holmes] answered, 'it would prevent me from taking a second dose of cocaine.'"

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The relevant question is: should one seek to obtain pleasure from chemicals?  I don't have a final view on that question, but in my experience, the answer would be - in general - no. 

Do you plan to stop eating and drinking?

Let's talk specifically about caffeine and alcohol (we'll put aside cheeseburgers and french fries for the moment). You could say very many of the exactly the same things about them that have been said about smoking here.

Or let's talk about "dulling the senses". Is anyone here prepared to give up sex, during which - assuming you are totally into it and granting that your tactile senses and awareness of your partner are greatly heightened - you are nonetheless virtually incapacitated in every other respect?

Fred Weiss

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Fred Weiss writes:

Do you plan to stop eating and drinking?
I need to eat and drink in order to live. That's the starting point. From there, I seek to maximize pleasure and avoid the pitfalls of eating. Often that leads me to perform a calculus of risk vs. reward, weighing the yummy taste against health factors.

That is different from drugs, and specifically cigarettes. I don't need to smoke to live. On the contrary, smoking will harm and kill me. It will make me smell bad. It will drain my pocket book. It will cause me to feel uncomfortable on long plain rides or in the home of a non-smoker. It will make it more difficult to find a romantic partner. Etc.

Oh, and contrary to what some have said, it will impair my ability to think.

Let's talk specifically about caffeine and alcohol (we'll put aside cheeseburgers and french fries for the moment). You could say very many of the exactly the same things about them that have been said about smoking here.

And in many cases, I would say the same things. But an evaluation of the substance depends on the total context, and the context that obtains for tobacco is different from the one that obtains for alcohol and caffeine.

Or let's talk about "dulling the senses". Is anyone here prepared to give up sex, during which - assuming you are totally into it and granting that your tactile senses and awareness of your partner are greatly heightened -  you are nonetheless virtually incapacitated in every other respect?
If this is directed at me, I didn't talk about "dulling the senses." Here's what I said:

Chemical pleasures dull other pleasures. One of the most awful drugs around today is ecstasy. What makes it so awful is that it makes one's skin extremely sensitive - every sensation becomes overwhelmingly pleasurable. The problem is, frequent users (and even infrequent users) often become dull to physical pleasures other than those produced by ecstasy. Even sex. Sure, they enjoy it, but it's not as intense as the drug.

I certainly am not saying that one must be fully focused every waking moment. One's focus must be appropriate to the context. That, however, has nothing to do with the argument I made, which centers on the inherent destructive consequences of chemically induced pleasures.

But let's be clear about something. I am no Puritan. I do not say that a rational person must not ever drink alcohol or smoke the occasional cigar. That all depends. My comments were directed at being a smoker, which is not - in my view - a valid choice if life is the standard.

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I searched through the forum for the word "smoking" and came up with nothing, so assuming this is a somewhat new topic I was wondering about opinions on the recent ban on smoking in restaurants and bars in New York City.

I think it's wonderful. Why should I be exposed to your disgusting habit, esp. if it has the potential to kill me? If you choose to engage in that behvaior in your own time, in your own home, more power to you (and thanks for helping Mother Nature control the human population).

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Does anybody every consider what the owner's of the building think? If private property was respected, no such laws would ever be imposed. If the owner sees that he is losing business because of the smoke in his restaurant, etc., then he would be a bad business owner not to either arrange a separate area for smoking that would not bother the non-smokers or simply make the restaurant non-smoking. (restaurant, bar, whatever...) It's the idea of the paternalistic state that makes this possible, that you need the government to tell you to wear a bike helmet, that second hand smoke is harmful and that you need to be protected. I live in Ottawa, and you cannot smoke in any public building including bingo halls, bars, restaurants, etc. It's @#$% ridiculous!

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Does anybody every consider what the owner's of the building think? If private property was respected, no such laws would ever be imposed. If the owner sees that he is losing business because of the smoke in his restaurant, etc., then he would be a bad business owner not to either arrange a separate area for smoking that would not bother the non-smokers or simply make the restaurant non-smoking. (restaurant, bar, whatever...) It's the idea of the paternalistic state that makes this possible, that you need the government to tell you to wear a bike helmet, that second hand smoke is harmful and that you need to be protected. I live in Ottawa, and you cannot smoke in any public building including bingo halls, bars, restaurants, etc. It's @#$% ridiculous!

Funny enough, the eating habits of most smokers mean restaurant owners who outrightly ban smoking will be losing a lot of their customers, as well as potential customers.

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Since I have been a smoker for almost 4 years I am far from feeling indifferent about the subject. I can understand if people don't wish to inhale smoke while they eat, but like so many people have said, it should be up to the restaurant whether or not to ban smoking. And with the new ventilation systems that have come out which virtually eliminate smoke from the air in enclosed spaces, there is really no reason to not have a smoking section unless the owner chooses not to.

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  • 11 months later...

(Moderator's note. The following posts were a separate thread. They have been merged into this related one. - softwareNerd)

I have a question that has been bothering me and I just wanted some different views on it. Im new to Objectivism, so if im totally off base please let me know. Ayn Rand was a smoker, so isnt this a irrational thing to be doing since it was damaging her health?

Edited by softwareNerd
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I have a question that has been bothering me and I just wanted some different views on it. Im new to Objectivism, so if im totally off base please let me know. Ayn Rand was a smoker, so isnt this a irrational thing to be doing since it was damaging her health?

But it increased the enjoyment of her life.

Many people bungie jump or join the military or do other dangerous things because they feel it makes their life better and they know its in their own personal self interest to do such things

There is more to life than living, Geoff :)

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But it increased the enjoyment of her life.

Many people bungie jump or join the military or do other dangerous things because they feel it makes their life better and they know its in their own personal self interest to do such things

There is more to life than living, Geoff  :)

Your examples don't offer a very good answer to the question. Every decision that a man makes is made by cost-benefit comparison. Some decisions, such as the ones you listed, have costs that are closer to the benefits. That's not the issue here.

If your position is that the benefit that smoking had on Ayn Rand's life outweighed the costs of such a habit, then you've yet to explain it.

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